Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Highlights of 2014 latter half

Looking back 2014 now that its 2015 will challenge my 60 year old 'memory'. Remember, "all I got's Gone" or is it?  

July 4th I played in a duo with fiddler Mark Campbell at the annual celebration at Poplar Forest,
Thomas Jefferson's second home.  Best paying gig I ever had.  Mark and I had been over to UK
back in January which was the best professional music trip I have ever taken.  

 July 6th  involved a trip to Canada to visit Jenny's folks.  We performed for the 3rd time for the folks at Madonna's  House,  I mean the 'Madonna House'.  They are easy to please and love 'live' music but
our songs are not familiar and I'm sure they wonder why we sing "old" songs and play banjo
in such a way.   I spent time cutting up and gluing up future banjo necks from some local 'birdseye' maple boards that I had bartered for a couple of years ago.  I also built a walnut vanity for Jenny's sister Terry and her husband Jack in their basement woodworking shop.  

Back in Floyd,  we hosted our daughter Hanna and her friends from the Pacific Northwest.  Her band, the Barn Owls, came to experience Floyd and play as much music as possible.  From WPAQ 740 -AM 'live on the air' to The Floyd Country Store to a house concert on our deck,  they wowed audiences 
wherever they appeared.  It was a great time for all.  Hanna stayed longer than did the rest to give us
a real visit with her alone.  She and I eventually headed up to the annual West Virginia festival known as Clifftopwhere we saw lots of old friends and made new ones playing lots of music of course.

We finally released our Traynham Family CD and began to long process of recouping the expenses by selling as many as we could to friends at Clifftop.   Back home, I sent out a few dozen promos to radio stations and others on a list of reviewers and DJ's known to play our kind of music.  Without Hanna around to perform with us the CD is not a 'hot' one by any means.  At least it documents our potential and preserves our performances at the several sessions held over a 3 year period when Hanna would
come back for visits after leaving for Seattle in Fall of 2011.  We'll be together some in 2015 and will brush up our tunes for the Swanannoa Gathering in July where we'll all 3 be instructors.

Mid August found me at Galax Fiddler's convention where I had committed to playing fiddle in an
Old-time band headed up by Trish Fore.  Rainy weather made it tough but we managed to play well both nights and got 5th place which ain't bad for stiff competition there.  I missed my beloved Fries convention but managed to go to Rockbridge in September  for one day.  Mark Campbell and I wanted to practice  for another duo gig at the new venue in Rocky Mount, Virginia called the Harvester.  At Rockbridge   we  also got up with our buddy John Schwab for a tight string band trio sound that we get a special feeling from.  

Jenny and I were involved in an 'end of life' event for our old friend from the 70's in Blacksburg, Bill Richardson, who lost his fight with 'Lymphoma' on Sept 11. Upon Bill's request  many people played music continually in his last four days in the hospital; so much that it warranted a front page article in the Roanoke times. In the midst of this event,  I wrote a song based on Bill's  request and his words for a title calling it 'They Never Told me I was Dying".
I performed it along with Jenny at his graveside located in Smyth County in a beautiful ancient cemetery.  Bill was actually buried at the foot of the grave our beloved friend and old-timer fiddler, Hick Edmonds who had passed on in 2008.  The experience was profound to both me and Jenny as it seemed unreal at first but eventually it  made us wake up to our own mortality.

October found me working  on installing a pair of used Solar Hot Water panels to supplement the heating of a volume of water that is part of  my outdoor water/wood stove.  I also committed to
have solar PV panels installed behind my shop to greatly reduce our electric bill.  I hope both solar projects when completed   will help me fell like I have  become
part of the solution to some of the environmental problems of our time.

Also in October,  Jenny and I held some one day workshops at our place as we had done in Spring.
On the first Saturday, Andy Buckman helped us again with beginning banjo while I taught fiddle and Jenny, guitar. A couple of Saturdays later,  Jenny and I taught a harmony singing workshop.  In early December,  we held another  one day workshop for intermediate banjo and fiddle.

In early December one Saturday night, I played fiddle at the annual Christmas Party in Rangely Virginia put on by the matriarch of the Blue Ridge flatfoot dancing style, Pearly Reynolds.  My 4th or 5th time over the years, it featured a potluck with more deviled eggs than anything else but still included some super country cooking by local ladies who love 'the party' as much as anyone.  Lots of green beans, ham, turkey, velvet cake and sweet tea.  Fiddler Shay Garriock came up from NC and joined me and the band which included Stan Spencer-guitar, Jared Boyd-banjo, and Stacy Boyd -bass.   A couple of exhibitions by lifelong flat footers  both freestyle and in a group routine were highlights of the night. Many of the younger dancers had grown up around this community of dancers and were now passing the interest on to their children.
I feel it to be a  real honor as a musician to be included in such a community event.

The rest 2014 was spent working on my largest banjo commission to date.  The order since May had been for a 12" Birdseye Maple banjo along with a matching banjo Uke with fancy inlays.  I had most of the wood work done by end of summer but the final decorations and set up were another big job.
I hired Hanna to employ her artistic talent to cut out the inlay shapes for the pair.  I received
 them in a timely manner but managed to miss my Christmas deadline I had imposed on myself.
Before New Years, I managed to get them both playing  really well.
I took a break from the work to go down to Richmond with Jenny to meet up with family at my brother Randy's house.  A great meal and visit with nephews and nieces and a skype session with Hanna
ensued.  The highlight was when our son, Ben and his wife Lisa announced to everyone that they are pregnant. Wow!  Christmas will be different from now on.

My last event of 2014 was to be part of a OT band to play for an annual New year's celebration at Floyd Country Store.  I got Andy Buckman for banjo, George Slusher for guitar and Sam Linkous for bass and called ourselves  the Route 8 Ramblers.  A good crowd of dancers came and started of the evening with the music of the Zephyr Lightnin Bolts until 10 PM then we took over and played a real long set.
We stopped just before midnight, receiving glass of champagne from the store's new owner ,Heather Krantz, to help bring in 2015 with a toast.
We played Breaking up Xmas and Merry Mountain Hoedown as our first tunes in the New Year.
Not bad way to begin 2015 for a 60 year old night owl.  Meanwhile, Jenny stayed home to hit the hay by 10 PM as usual...






Sunday, June 15, 2014

Slusher Dolls and Mars Hill '14

Early June is a wonderful time in the world of our music and fun every year.  2014 was especially good
as I was given a set of dancing dolls that were designed and made by the late R O Slusher of Floyd County.  His son and wonderful Old-time guitar player, George,  first told me about the dolls and how they worked a couple of years ago.  Last year I got to see them in action at one his family reunions and was duly impressed.  R O made about 30 pairs of the dolls in his later years as he slowly retired from cattle farming according to another son. Terry.  He had quite the pocket knife skills and painted them with amazing detail.

    As a teacher of claw hammer banjo and advocate for
traditional mountain music I have tried to tie in the local traditions of freestyle flatfoot dancing to the
JAM (Junior Appalachian Musicians) program that is in its 3rd year in Floyd County.   In the 1970's and 80's as I was learning about the older local styles of banjo playing, I was drawn to dancing events like the weekly
Sunday afternoon event at Mabry Mill where the sound of claw hammer banjo,  fiddle and guitar were united with the  percussive sounds of  flatfoot dancers who danced in a group on a simple dance floor in the shade nearby.  The music played by the local people was not a performance style like Bluegrass music is.  Rather, it was part of a social scene where people came together to visit, listen, and participate
in a fun activity.  Play parties and dancing have long  been a part of Floyd County's heritage of fun, thus, the Slusher Dolls were  no doubt inspired by people having fun with music.  RO himself apparently was a avid fan of country music and dancing traditions.  He and his wife  made music a big part of their social life.

As luck would have it, I was given a set of Slusher dolls recently and have been learning to operate them as R O designed them.  Clips of my early attempts are on Facebook.  The Mt Airy Fiddler's convention held this past June 6 and 7th was  where the dolls first got a lot of attention around the old-time community.  They were videoed many times and late on Saturday night even entered the dance contest naming the dolls  Richard and Barbara from Mt Airy,  for a popular couple from the local Old-time  scene. 
They won sixth place along with many other dancers as they attempted to put some more fun back into the  flatfooting contest.

Late last summer I was hired to teach intermediate level claw hammer banjo at the annual Blue Ridge Old-Time week held at Mars Hill College in Western NC just after the Mt Airy Fiddler's convention each year.
I knew that the Slusher Dolls would be a hit with the crowd there as well.  I featured  them in my 10 minute concert on Monday night where I named them for former director Hillary Dirlam and her partner Scott.  Of course, they drew a fabulous response as they wildly danced to my banjo playing.
During the week I took them to several of the evening jams and had lots of fun showing them to the
participants.   

The Slusher dolls  are a challenge to get to dance well  but when I get them warmed up, it is possible to hear the sound of their feet just like with real dancers on the dance board that is a part of their operating equipment.  They are designed to be controlled by a single string looped around the 
musician's little finger which is moving rhythmically to the music.  A banjo in my case is being claw hammered with  two downstrokes per beat which activates the dolls who are suspended over the danced board.  By pulling the string and stroking the strings  simultaneously they tap and twirl about with rubber bands and fishing lure swivels to appear to be a lively dancing duo as long one keeps it up.
Its is rather realistic if I do say so myself.  I intend to take them along on gigs from now on.  Maybe you'll see more clips of their performances in the near future.